Saturday 7 February 2009

Complaining About Complaints

Marina Hyde writes an amusing, if somewhat depressing, article about the ‘permanently outraged’ and the mountain of complaints. Lots of hot air and energy about very little. Apparently 15, 000 people called the emergency services about snow-balls. I admit some snow-ball attacks can be unpleasant, but usually only in a wet way while you are scurrying to work.

In a culture where the customer is always right and every public service is dressed up as a business, we encourage complaints. You have only to go in to a council building and the amount of leaflets about complaint ladders and such like virtually pleads with you to complain. If a department does not have an intricate complaints procedure then it is inadequate. I’m sure there have been complaints against lack of complaints procedure, even though there was nothing to complain about in the first place.

Any one unlucky enough to have worked in a council will know the fear of complaints from the public looms over everything. Council chiefs spend a ridiculous proportion of their time dealing with complaints, and council workers waste much of their time in worrying about how their ’superiors’ are dealing with the complaints made about them. It is a never ending cycle. And yet the literature of councils invites more complaints.

What is the nature of these complaints? Often they are so petty that they defy belief if you rationally look at them, as in the snowballs case above. Anyone who has worked for a councillor or MP will know that a large proportion of cases are about cycling on the pavement and dog mess on the pavement, rather than from people who have really serious issues to complain about.

Complaints are usually made by people who have the time, the money and the education and should know better. These are people who know how to work the system to their advantage and know their rights as a customer. We often see a member of the public on the news claiming ‘This is a third world-country!’ in a furious, nasal voice. He is usually a balding, middle-aged man, in a very comfortable and warm grey-coat, with a beer belly suggesting too many hot dinners: hardly the subject of a third world country.


Sunder Katwala said...

What an outrageous article. To whom can I complain about this?

Mil said...

I was going to complain about a simultaneous and multiple snowball attack in the Rivacre area of Ellesmere Port last Monday on the bus I was in as I went to class. We were travelling at around 30 mph at the time. But no one seemed surprised, the driver took it in his mechanical stride and I concluded from the experience that it was par for the course. Should I have complained or not? Does the fact I didn't mean I didn't have the time, money or education and did, in fact, know better? Someone could've got hurt - but then I did complain in one of my blogs the other day that my daughter's school even prevented her from hearing snow crunching underfoot and kept her indoors the whole day, presumably for health and safety reasons. I can't have it both ways, can I?

Calix said...

Sunder - we take your complaint seriously and you will now be placed on the first rung of our complaints ladder.

Mil - I understand your dillemma: to complain or not to complain. You actually made a brave decision not to complain, but I'm not sure if I would have had the strength to resist.

Looking back on my article, perhaps the real person with too much time on their hands is myself - the luxury of time to compalin about complaints!